By Mira Berkson
McIntosh Woods State Park in Ventura, Iowa has temporarily added 40 furry, adorable and hard-working helpers to its ecosystem: goats. The goats are good for much more than their looks and charming demeanor; they were placed in the state park to graze and eat invasive species, which increase diversity of the plants in the park and allow for more native species to thrive. Aaron Steele, co-owner of Goats on the Go, the company that provides the goats, explained the goats’ purpose.
“The main benefits of using goats are that they offset the use of herbicides and mechanization,” Steele said. “The goats are very light-footed and don’t cause much in the way of erosion, and they replace a lot of human labor working in dangerous conditions like steep slopes and thick woods and lots of poison ivy. Goats just thrive in those conditions.”
Tammy Domonoske, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) park ranger for McIntosh, elaborated on why she turned to goat labor.
“Since I had been working on my ecosystem management plan for many years and never being able to get ahead of the invasive species problem,” Domonoske wrote in an email to The S&B, “I decided I would try prescribed grazing to devour the nuisance vegetation faster and to see results quickly.”
Goats on the Go isn’t the company to pilot this innovative and environmentally-friendly way of combating problem vegetation. Steele spoke of how there are goat providers across the United States, especially in the west.
“[Goats on the Go] saw very few providers in the Midwest, and none in Iowa,” Steele said.
They kick started their Ames-based company by raising just a few goats, and now they have about 300 goats, with plans to expand even further.
“We use the goats for conservation land management, so for state parks, county conservation boards, managing brush and woodlands. That typically tends to be larger scale projects,” Steele said.
Bigger projects can use goats by the hundreds, so even the seemingly large project that’s happening in McIntosh is considered small compared to other undertakings that the company has tackled. Forty goats can eat an acre in about three to five days, according to Steele.
“Over the course of several grazing seasons and with other techniques along the way, my goals are to eliminate most of the invasive species such as common buckthorn, honeysuckle, autumn olive, Virginia creeper and grapevine that have taken over the woodlands,” Steele said.
“[The] long term goal would be to create an oak savanna forest and a much healthier, more diverse native woodland within McIntosh Woods State Park.”
In addition to all of the environmental benefits of the creatures, the goats are adorable and are likely to melt the hearts of any passerby, making for a great way to engage the public.
“This project has been a rewarding, positive experience. It has drawn people outside into the state park and the great outdoors that wouldn’t necessarily visit, and from many miles, just to view the ‘working’ goats!” Domonoske wrote. “In the process, they discovered new elements that they did not know existed, whether that be the wildlife viewing blind in the wetland, a bridge over a small creek, the scenery or the yurt cabins. … They all have been eager to hear and see the story about how the goats are assisting us with natural resource management.”
McIntosh is a public park, so Grinnell students and community members can visit to see the goats in action, though these hooved and horned friends will only be at McIntosh for a couple more weeks before they are off on their next eating endeavor.
However, anyone can scroll through the Iowa DNR’s Facebook page for a “GoatPro” video to get a goat’s-eye-view of the park.